Should I Go to College? Why Getting a College Degree Is Still Important for Aspiring Writers

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You’ve been writing a long time. For as long as you can remember. All you want to do, you’re certain, is become a writer. But doesn’t everybody go to school to get a degree in English or something?

That’s not what you want. You want to write. Is it worth paying all that money and spending all that time and energy studying something you never even want to use professionally?

College is essential, regardless of your chosen career path. If you’re thinking about not even giving it a go, keep thinking. Getting a degree, even as an aspiring writer, is more beneficial to your future self, and your career, than you might realize. College, these days, is inevitable.

But don’t let that discourage you from a bright future as a writer. Here are a few things you’ll learn along the way, things that will make four years of stress and hard work worth the time, money and effort.

You’ll learn the most effective speaking and writing strategies

College students spend a lot of time complaining about papers, projects and presentations without stepping back to realize the skills they’re developing in the process. Even if you’re not in a creative writing class or writing articles every week, that doesn’t mean you’re not still learning how to structure and present arguments on a variety of topics.

Professors don’t just give out those assignments to have something to grade. Regardless of the subject matter, college courses teach you the most effective writing and speaking techniques out there. You’ll need them to pitch story ideas and carry yourself professionally, even if you do find a way to make a full-time career out of writing.

You’ll learn how to work with all kinds of people

Two words: group projects. You probably have yet to meet anyone who loves them, and that’s exactly the point professors try to make when assigning projects to be completed in groups. Again, it’s not just to make grading easier. It’s to teach you an important life lesson, over and over … and over again.

In your lifetime, you will work in groups. All the time. You will work with people who put way too much effort into every little thing, and you will work with people who do their best to get away with participating as little as possible.

It’s not exclusive to schoolwork. As a writer, you’ll work with all kinds of people: agents, editors, other writers, people who love their jobs as much as you hopefully do, as well as people who don’t. College prepares you for this much more efficiently than you’ll initially realize. Just push through it. You will not regret it.

You’ll learn what you do and do not want to do career-wise

Many students embark on their collegiate endeavors thinking they know exactly where they’re headed and what they want to do after graduation. Many of them change their minds, sometimes more than once in a four-year time span. Taking a variety of courses, both in your major and outside of it, will introduce you to a whole new world of possibilities you may have never even considered before.

Without that experience, you might actually end up struggling to find where you fit in the publishing world. The best way to figure out what you do and don’t want to do is to learn about the industries and careers available to you. As an aspiring writer, you might start out in marketing, PR, administration, some career you never thought you wanted. Often, though, laying a foundation early on gives you the freedom to build your portfolio and continue to write, which will, most likely, come in handy later.

Even freelance jobs want to see that you have a degree in English, journalism or communications. There is no escape. But you won’t regret taking the time to write a little less to study a little more. It will all be wroth it. We promise.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Five Things Aspiring Writers Should Do in College

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College is supposed to be that time in our early young adult life where we start figuring things out: how to balance extracurricular activities with school, friends and sleeping; how to do laundry; even how to act like a responsible human being (sort of).

With responsibility comes thoughts of the future, and if you’ve known for a while that you want to be a writer when you grow up, let’s be honest: it’s about to get much harder to find time to write while also figuring out how to keep your dorm room reasonably clean enough to live in.

There are a few things you can do to keep your college lifestyle choices in alignment with your overall goal of becoming a professional writer (yes, it is possible, if you work hard). Here are five things all aspiring writers should do before college graduation.

 1. Study subjects you like, not just English or creative writing 

Studying English is a great way to refine your analytical skills and give you some practice writing in different styles, but there’s a reason you’ll have a set of core courses to take as graduation requirements as well. Learning a wide variety of topics gives you more baseline knowledge to work with when you sit down to work on a new writing project.

You don’t even have to declare English or creative writing as your major, though: study whatever you want, whatever interests you the most. There are plenty of ways to learn about things you’re interested in and apply those topics to your writing.

 2. Pitch story ideas to real-world publications

When it comes to pitching, no publication is too big. In your lifetime, as an aspiring writer, you’re going to get rejected more times than you’ll be able to count. Aiming high, even if you think it’s too high, will help you gain confidence in pitching story ideas (creative or more journalistic/academic) and get used to that pre-written rejection email—or never hearing back at all.

If you do aim high, though, don’t forget to aim a little lower in-between the big pitches, too. You’re probably much more likely to start small and work your way up, so your best bet is probably to pitch ideas anywhere you can, as long as you pitch within that publication’s guidelines and in alignment with their brand.

 3. Write for your student newspaper or literary magazine

This might not sound very appealing to you if you’re a creative writer to the core, but you’d be surprised how much creative writing and journalism compliment each other.

Learning how to fine-tune your work and narrow down the focus of your pieces can really help you in your own writing, too. Plus, gaining experience interviewing people you don’t know won’t hurt, and the more you can prove to future employers you did all you could to get any kind of writing experience while you had the chance, the better.

 4. Form a peer review circle

If you’re not enrolled in a writing course that has a peer review component built into it, or even if you are and want more practice outside the classroom, form your own. Find fellow students who might be interested in having their work critiqued, and giving feedback on others’ work, in a group setting.

It doesn’t even have to be an official campus group or club: you can meet up informally once or twice a month at a local coffee shop to check up on each others’ progress and help hold each other accountable.

 5. Apply to work for your campus’s writing lab

Learning how to critique someone else’s grammar, structure and writing style can be an effective way to track down and improve on weaknesses in your own writing. Even helping students with their academic papers and other projects will keep your mind focused on writing even when you aren’t.

Besides, it will look good on your resume, and if there’s a small salary attached, even better.

You don’t have to wait until you have that degree to start your writing career. Gaining pub cred and networking with other writers and editors will serve as a major asset to you somewhere down the road. You won’t regret taking the extra time to make college all about writing, even if it’s a small part of everything you do as a student on and off campus.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

How to Feel More Confident About What You Write

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Do you like to write? Well, do you? Now I’ll ask you a question with a less obvious answer: do you like WHAT you write?

I used to write Christian novels. I like reading them and there are authors out there who write them well, but I’m not one of them. And it’s not because Jesus and I have issues (we’re all good), it’s because it never clicked with me. I believe what I believe and it’s a staple in my life, but at some point in high school I realized I didn’t want to write for that audience 24/7.

The problem wasn’t the messages I wanted to convey or the lifestyles of the characters I wrote about. It was the fact that, simply, I didn’t like writing in that genre. And I realized that writing in a genre other than Christian fiction didn’t change my religion or the way I lived my own life. I wanted to write about different characters with different lifestyles, a different style. And once I started doing that, I started liking the end products of long hours spent typing away at my computer.

Now confidence – that’s a different story. And if you’re in the middle of writing a book and are high on caffeine and low on confidence, you’ve stumbled upon the appropriate collection of tips.

Write about things you’re interested in. You don’t have to be an expert about soccer to write about the World Cup – I write about health and fitness almost daily and I don’t even have my degree yet. No, you can’t claim you’re an expert on something when you’re not, but you’re not banned from writing about what you’re interested in just because you didn’t study it in school. The more you like something, the more you’ll watch, practice or research/read about it – the more you’ll know, and the more material you’ll have to go off of when you sit down and open your go-to word processor. Don’t write about the World Cup if you have no interest in it whatsoever, just because ‘everybody else is doing it.’ Stick to what you know – your love for the topic of choice will show through the words you use to write about it.

Don’t underestimate your ability to tell an amazing story. You’ve gone places throughout your lifetime and interacted with people whether you wanted to or not (I’m talking to you, fellow introverts). Even if you’ve never gone past your hometown’s official boundaries, you’ve encountered thousands if not millions of writing prompts just by walking down your front steps on your way to school every day when you were younger. If you’re afraid your ideas ‘have all been done before,’ snuff out that fear and make them come to life anyway. How many Disney classics were based on previously-written tales? A LOT. And all who grew up watching them don’t care if they’re technically fairly unoriginal. The more you practice writing, the better you’ll get at putting your own original spin on an age-old tale. You are a WRITER! Sit yourself down and crank out those stories you’ve kept floating around in your head your entire life. You won’t regret it.

Share your work. But Meg, I don’t like bragging about my writing. TOO BAD! Don’t even think of it as ‘bragging.’ If writers never promoted their own work to start out, no one would ever discover it. How do you think authors snag publishing contracts? By marketing their best work and being proud of it. Yes, be PROUD of it! You sat down and wrote a book/article/news brief/screenplay/haiku/instruction manual! WOOHOO! You accomplished something and you deserve a self-pat on the back! Now go email it to all your friends. If they don’t like it, there’s something wrong with them. Or, if you want to go the more logical route, they’re just not interested in the topic, genre or form of writing. Send it to 10 people and at least half of them will probably tell you you’re awesome and beg you for more reading material.

Do you like what you write? Maybe not. And all of us have pieces we wish we’d never written. But those are easy to save onto our hard drives and forget about, to leave more room in your brain for new ideas. Take your writing into your own hands (literally, as always) and love it. Love it as much as you love Disney movies and, okay, international soccer extravaganzas.

Love&hugs, Meg<3